I have a friend who has a pretty good bike focused blog. Usually I rely on him for biking related book reviews. He does a good job, knows a little bit about biking and writing, and isn’t afraid to call it like he sees it. But he has a problem. See there is a new bike-bio out. It’s called Rusch to Glory and it was written by Rebecca Rusch. Now that in and of itself isn’t a big problem. Like I say he knows a thing or two about bikes and biking (well except for repairing bikes, but well you can’t be good at everything right ;) ). Nope the problem is that he has become hopelessly smitten with Reba and has declared that he cannot do a review on the book. Heck, he was the emcee at the book release in Leadville this year. I figured I would pick up the slack for him and try my best to do a review of the book so he wouldn’t feel guilty about leaving this huge gap in the literary bike world. (You can thank me later Fatty.)
I should be up front here. I have ridden with Reba four times. Three times in Willmington and once in Leadville, though I must say I didn’t even get to say “hi” to her there. I have had two sweaty hugs from her. Even have pictures to prove it.
(2012 Willmington/Whiteface 100k: My first ever race. Reba asked if I was THE Fat Cyclist. I replied, No, just A fat cyclist. It didn’t seam to matter.)
(2014 Willmington/Whiteface 100k: That’s Reba laughing when I told her that I was being sponsored by Fatty this year in my racing. I told her he paid me $5 to be on his team. She thought this was hilarious.)
Reba and I are friends (well Facebook friends anyway). All of this is my long winded way of saying, I am not entirely unbiased either.
So with that disclaimer firmly in place, onto the book.
I want to start out by saying I don’t think you have to be an adventure racer or crazy biker to enjoy this book. Rebecca is easily approachable through the book much like she is in real life. The stories are fun, gross, sad, spirited and motivational. They are about being alive and experiencing life. The core messages contain something that everyone should be able to relate to.
What I expect when I read a bio is to understand when I am finished what makes that person tick. I want to know how they came to the place they are at and what got them there. And I want to feel like they are telling ME their story. In those regards the book does a pretty good job. Rebecca starts the book starts out by talking about growing up. I learned that she was a lot like most of us “regular people” as a kid. Kind of athletic, poor self body image, not at all what you would expect from someone who would become a world class endurance athlete. That somehow made the adventures that would follow more relatable to me. (On a personal level, being the same age, both having fathers who served in Vietnam, and having listened to the same music in high school didn’t hurt, though I do no think that is either required or important to enjoy the book.)
I learned a couple of things about Rebecca by reading the book. Coming from the cycling world, and only knowing of her from that realm, I was unaware of her experience as an Adventure Racer. I didn’t even know you could be a professional Adventure Racer. The stories of her races in this arena are vivid and descriptive (I do not think I will ever be able to get some of the mental pictures I have from the leech section out of my mind). As expected she details the highs and lows of the actual races. If you enjoy reading about crazy physical exploits or “why the heck would you do that on purpose” stories than these sections are a lot of fun. It filled in the gaps in Rebecca’s career that I didn’t know about.
One of the things the book does really well is to show that even “The Queen of Pain” has limits and edges to her comfort zone. She talks about getting sweaty palms when she climbs and needing a lot of chalk to keep her hands dry. She pushes her limits and boundaries by training, by preparation and by surrounding herself with people who know more than she does so she can learn from them. You get a good sense about the mental strength required for endurance sports, but you also learn that these athletes are not reckless, just dedicated. While doing this, Rebecca highlights the importance of the interpersonal aspects of team building and racing under extreme conditions. Even in “solo” competitions, Rebecca stresses the need for a highly functioning team to be successful.
I was surprised to learn that Rebecca did not in fact like mountain biking. It was a part of adventure racing, but not one that she embraced, just survived. In fact, mountain biking was something that Rebecca really and truly got into after adventure racing because people pushed her into it. I could totally relate to the stories of her early races where she felt like a technically inferior rider. She described the fear she had of technical courses, as well as the fear she had of being out of her league in races. It made her feel more real to me. Heck, if Rebecca Rusch has felt out of her league in a mountain bike race, well then I am in good company and its OK to have those feelings! I think anyone who has been at the top of a steep technical section and wondered if they should do this (and then rolled the bike over the lip anyway) can relate. Really anyone who starts a new sport or venture and wonders what they have gotten themselves into should be able to relate.
I felt the book was mis-titled. I read the book and did not get a sense that Rebecca was looking for, or “Rusching” towards “glory”. The message I got from the book was that her drive is much more internal. It was clear that Rebecca is driven by competition. Winning while important, seamed to be important only so that she could continue being sponsored and doing the kinds of things she loves to do. What was clear was that in the end she is trying to become the best she can be. Reading the sections on body boarding the Colorado river or riding the Kokopelli Trail demonstrated this internal motivation. Like I say, I didn’t see the rushing to “glory” aspect.
Just read the section on the leeches and you will understand the ugly.
In the End
I really enjoyed reading Rusch To Glory. The book is well written and easy to read. I learned a lot about Rebecca from reading it. I also learned something about myself. I learned that I have another gear that I have yet to discover (and that its not too late to discover it).
(On a personal note. If you ever have the chance to ride with Rebecca you should do it. The first year I raced Willmington I did not do the pre-ride with Reba and Dave Weins. I was intimidated by the prospect of riding with them. That was a mistake. There was no reason to be intimidated. They are the most down to earth, approachable “pros” I know. Riding with them is like riding with old friends. Racing with them, while fun, is an exercise in humility, but that is a different story.)